Two Reasons I Couldn’t Sleep

I couldn’t sleep the night before my viva because:

  1. I had no idea what my examiners were there to do, or what my viva might be like;
  2. I had little self-confidence in my ability to discuss or defend my research.

These are common problems for PhD candidates, and can be really stressing, though thankfully I’ve not met many people who’ve had insomnia the night before their viva!

I didn’t know why I was lying awake at the time, I wouldn’t have known what to do had I realised why I couldn’t sleep, but both problems have solutions.

The first is solved simply by asking and exploring. Check regulations, talk with academics about their approaches as examiners, talk with graduates about their experiences. Building a set of expectations for the viva is useful to shape how you think about it. Generally, vivas are fine, but you need to know more about them to really believe it.

The second problem has solutions, but they are not so quick. Building self-confidence takes time, but the rewards for time spent dramatically outweigh the investment. Of course, in preparation for your viva spend time reading your thesis, making notes, reading papers, having a mock viva and so on. All of these are necessary and can help with confidence. But what else will you do to confirm to yourself that you are an excellent researcher? That you are capable and accomplished? That you have done the work and have the talent to be at your viva?

It takes longer to solve the confidence problem, but every step you take will help.